AS the Afghan Taliban continue their blitzkrieg across their country, with key cities falling like ninepins, it is a foregone conclusion that the capture of Kabul — and with it the control of Afghanistan — is only a matter of time.
US intelligence reports say that Kabul may fall within 90 days. But the truth is that with their capture of Pul-i-Alam that is some 70 km from the country’s capital, the insurgents are closing in on the seat of power faster than was anticipated. Even cities ruled by the hard-line militia’s staunch opponents, such as Mazar-i-Sharif, are finding it tough to resist the Taliban onslaught. Therefore the international community, particularly Afghanistan’s neighbours, should now be concerned about how to deal with a Taliban government in Kabul, however unpalatable it may be. And topping the global community’s agenda should be questions about what the Taliban intend to do about their relations with transnational terrorist groups.
The US has taken a maximalist position in this regard, saying that if the Taliban take power by force, they shall be shunned by the global community. Yet the fact is that Kabul has always been taken by force; even after 9/11 the US installed the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan after defeating the Taliban militarily. The ideal situation would of course be what Pakistan and others are proposing: a peaceful settlement. But that does not seem likely. Although Afghan government negotiators in Doha have again extended the olive branch to the Taliban, it is unlikely the latter will entertain the matter as they have maximum advantage on the battlefield.
Indeed, much of the present chaos is the result of the abrupt American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Kabul’s inability to protect the country. The Americans — the former Trump administration and the current dispensation — have had enough of Afghanistan and, failing in their ‘civilising mission’, they want the ‘boys’ back home as quickly as possible. Pakistan has also failed to convince Kabul that it is a neutral actor, considering its past links with the Afghan Taliban. All these factors have aided the disorder that is currently unfolding in Afghanistan.
The international community must send a strong message to the Taliban: when they do take Kabul, if their country is used to host transnational terrorists, there will be consequences. After all, the Afghan Taliban have a working relationship with anti-Pakistan terrorists such as the banned TTP, and a major security nightmare may emerge if these malign actors are given an open field to operate. China has also communicated its concerns about Uighur militant groups such as the ETIM, while Al Qaeda and IS too have a large footprint in Afghanistan. Therefore, if the Taliban do not wish to see a repeat of the events of Sept 2001, they must pledge to not allow territory under their control to be used by terrorist groups against any other state in the vicinity or further off.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2021